Brian Donlevy

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Brian Donlevy
Brian Donlevy 1955.jpg
Brian Donlevy, 1955.
Born Waldo Brian Donlevy
(1901-02-09)February 9, 1901
Cleveland, Ohio[1][2]
Died April 6, 1972(1972-04-06) (aged 71)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1924–1969
Spouse(s) Yvonne Grey (m. 1928; div. 1936)
Marjorie Lane (m. 1936; div. 1947)
Lillian Lugosi (m. 1966; his death 1972)
Children 1

Waldo Brian Donlevy (February 9, 1901 – April 6, 1972), known as Brian Donlevy, was an American actor, noted for playing dangerous tough guys from the 1930s to the 1960s. He usually appeared in supporting roles. Among his best-known films are Beau Geste (1939) and The Great McGinty (1940). For his role as Sergeant Markoff in Beau Geste, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Donlevy starred as US special agent Steve Mitchell in the radio/TV series Dangerous Assignment. Mitchell received assignments to exotic locales involving international intrigue from the Commissioner played by Herbert Butterfield.[3][4] His obituary in The Times newspaper in the United Kingdom stated that "any consideration of the American 'film noir' of the 1940s would be incomplete without him".[5]

Early life and military service[edit]

Donlevy was born in 1901 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Irish parents Rebecca (née Parks) and Thomas Donlevy, who were originally from Portadown, County Armagh.[6][7][8][9] Sometime between 1910 and 1912, the family moved to Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin,[10] where Donlevy's father worked as a supervisor at the Brickner Woolen Mills.[1]

When the local Army National Guard company was called into service for the Pancho Villa Expedition in 1916, Donlevy lied about his age (he was actually 14) so he could join the mobilization. Donlevy served during the expedition as a bugler. When the United States entered World War I, Donlevy went to France with Company C, 127th Infantry Regiment, a part of the 32nd Infantry Division.[citation needed]


Donlevy began his career in New York City in the early 1920s, appearing in many theater productions and also winning an increasing number of silent film parts. Previously, he had modeled for the illustrator J. C. Leyendecker, who produced illustrations for the famous Arrow Collar advertisements. His Broadway credits included Hit the Deck and Life Begins at 8:40.

Donlevy's break came in 1935, when he was cast in the Edward G. Robinson film Barbary Coast. A large amount of film work followed, with several important parts. In 1939, he played the lead villain in Destry Rides Again and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role as the ruthless Sergeant Markoff in Beau Geste, although the Oscar went to Thomas Mitchell for Stagecoach.

The following year, he played the role for which he is perhaps best remembered, that of McGinty in The Great McGinty, a role he reprised four years later in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. In 1942, Donlevy starred in Wake Island with William Bendix and Robert Preston and played street-tough borough politician Paul Madvig in Dashiell Hammet's classic The Glass Key. In 1955, he played the lead in the British science-fiction horror film The Quatermass Xperiment (called The Creeping Unknown in the US) for the Hammer Films company, playing the lead role of Professor Bernard Quatermass. The film was based on a 1953 BBC Television serial of the same name.[11]

The character had been British, but Hammer cast Donlevy in an attempt to help sell the film to North American audiences. Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale disliked Donlevy's portrayal, referring to Donlevy as "a former Hollywood heavy gone to seed". Nonetheless, the film version was a success and Donlevy returned for the sequel, Quatermass 2 (Enemy From Space in the US), in 1957, also based on a BBC television serial. This made Donlevy the only man ever to play the famous scientist on screen twice, although Scottish actor Andrew Keir would later play him both on film and on radio.[12]

Throughout his film career, Donlevy also did several radio shows, including a reprise of The Great McGinty. He played the lead character in Dangerous Assignment between 1949 and 1954, taking the series to TV in 1952. He featured in a number of films over the following years until his death. He also appeared in a variety of television series from the late 1940s until the mid-1960s. In 1966 in one of the final episodes of Perry Mason, "The Case of the Positive Negative", Donlevy played defendant General Roger Brandon.[citation needed]

He also guest-starred on such popular programs as Crossroads, Wagon Train, and Rawhide. In 1957, he appeared in a CBS production of A. J. Cronin's Beyond This Place. In 1960, he appeared as John Ridges in the episode "Escape" of The DuPont Show with June Allyson. His last film role was in Pit Stop, released in 1969.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Donlevy was married to Yvonne Grey from 1928 to 1936. He married actress Marjorie Lane in 1936. They had one child together and divorced in 1947. Donlevy was married to Lillian Arch Lugosi (the former wife of Bela Lugosi) from 1966 until his death in 1972.[14]


Donlevy died from throat cancer on April 6, 1972 at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California.[15] He was survived by his wife and a daughter, Judy Donlevy, by his second wife. His ashes were scattered over Santa Monica Bay.


In December 2016, a biography, Brian Donlevy, the Good Bad Guy by Derek Sculthorpe was published by McFarland & Company of North Carolina.

Partial filmography[edit]

Lobby card for The Glass Key (1942) costarring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1942 Philip Morris Playhouse The Great McGinty[16]
1946 Suspense "Out of Control"[17]
1946 Suspense "Lazarus Walks"[17]

Television appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1949-1954 Dangerous Assignment Main Role, Secret Agent Steve Mitchell


  1. ^ a b "Sheboygan Press, January 29, 1931". Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ "California Death Records". Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Dangerous Assignment". Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Full cast and crew for "Dangerous Assignment"". Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Brian Donlevy – A Famous Film Tough Guy". The Times. April 7, 1972. p. 16. 
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  7. ^ "Year: 1920; Census Place: Sheboygan Falls, Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Roll: T625_2017; Page 26B; Enumeration District 148; Image: 431". 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  8. ^ Mank, Gregory (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, with a Complete Filmography of Their Films Together. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Co., Inc. p. 658. ISBN 0786434805. 
  9. ^ "Tough-guy movie actor Brian Dunlevy was born in Castle Street". Retrieved August 28, 2017. 
  10. ^ ""Milwaukee Journal", August 10, 1944". Google News Archive. Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  11. ^ The Quatermass Xperiment;; retrieved June 19, 2016.
  12. ^ IMDB Enemy from Space (1957) U.S. name for Quatermass II. Retrieved June 19, 2006.
  13. ^ "Pit Stop",; retrieved June 19, 2016.
  14. ^ IMDB Brian Donlevy bio.; Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  15. ^ "Brian Donlevy Dies Of Cancer". Bangor Daily News. Bangor, Maine. Associated Press. April 7, 1972. p. 5. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. January 23, 1942. p. 15. Retrieved July 28, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  17. ^ a b "Suspense". Retrieved 2017-08-28. 

External links[edit]